Giving a presentation can be daunting. However, whether you are presenting to the director of a car dealership in Sheikh Zayed Road, or talking to a roomful of delegates at a conference, if you avoid these common presentation mistakes, you’re more likely to succeed.
Mumbling is a cardinal sin when giving a presentation. If you start to mumble you will quickly lose your audience’s interest. They’ll start looking around for something else to fill their time – like their smartphone, documents, staring out of the window or looking around the auditorium. If you are speaking to a large crowd in an auditorium it is too easy for an individual to stand up and walk out. And once one person has done it, others will follow.
The trick is to keep your voice interesting and loud enough for people to hear you (but don’t shout – unless it’s to make a particular point). Whether it’s a presentation to a new client, a packed university hall, or a small conference room, your voice is the strongest ally you have in making your presentation successful. Interesting speakers don’t keep the same tone or pace when giving presentations. They mix it up to keep the audience engaged.
The opposite of mumbling is talking so quickly the audience doesn’t have time to absorb the essentials, never mind your carefully worked out nuances. Understanding how to pace yourself when talking to a group of people is a core presentation skill. If you feel yourself speeding up, take a breath, pause and then continue. Pausing is a great way of grabbing the attention of the audience. If they are beginning to lose focus, your silence will make them tune back in to what you are saying, or rather not saying. You’ll discover that pausing also gives people a moment to allow important points sink in. When practicing your presentation, consider how to use silence to drive home specific points you feel people may otherwise miss.
Don’t drift off topic, unless you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re doing: because your audience has a finite amount of patience and if you can’t bring it back to the presentation, they’ll feel you are wasting their time and don’t know what you’re talking about.
Have some notes to keep you on track and don’t deviate too far from them. However, don’t spend your entire time looking at your notes. People like to feel a connection with a speaker, and if you are always looking down, you can’t make the all-important eye contact to people in the room.
And while we’re thinking about looking down, don’t spend your entire time looking at the PowerPoint behind you. Remember, people don’t warm to a person’s back; they warm to a person’s face. It’s fine to turn to the screen behind you to make a particular point, but for the most of the time face forward and engage with your audience.
For some people the thought of having to practice their presentation is daunting; so they wing it. And, unless it’s something they’ve presented frequently, the audience can tell.
You’ll commit all the mistakes listed above, and then some. You’ll drift, you’ll refer to the screen behind you too much, probably mumble when you lose sight of where you should be, and most definitely wont pace yourself properly.
Even if you’ve been landed the job the day before, spend whatever time you have available to prepare a proper presentation. Remember, you are taking up people’s time and they’ll be more open to what your are talking to them about if they feel you’ve made time to make it interesting for them.
If you’ve never given a presentation before, or are naturally quiet, ask a member of your team, or someone at home, to listen to it beforehand and give you feedback. You only get one chance to shine when presenting, so practicing beforehand is essential.
If you’re unsure of how to present, or want to improve your presentation skills, book a place on our Presentation Skills workshop today: /courses/presentation-skills/index.php
Whether presenting to a small group of people in a boardroom, or hundreds at one of Dubai’s premier hotels, brushing up on your presentation skills is a must.
Very often a presentation can feel more like an endurance test, when it should be an informative and persuasive sales pitch. Remember your audience is there because your talk attracted them in the conference brochure, or the boss told everyone to be at the meeting. It’s your job to makes sure they don’t walk away feeling their time has been wasted.
Research who you’re talking to
If you are presenting to a large group of people at a conference, understand what their overarching concerns are. Is there a particular issue affecting their industry? What are the specific problems they are facing that your company can help solve? If you know some of the people in the audience, consider talking to them before the presentation and find out what they want to hear.
Stand up straight and smile
It’s often the little things in life that make the biggest difference. At the beginning of your presentation face the audience and look around the whole room, smile and say hello. Making people feel welcome will put them in a more receptive frame of mind. Smiling will make them more at ease.
Look the part
Depending on whom you are talking to will dictate how you dress. Think about what will make your audience have more faith in your words. Are they going to respond better to a suit, or will smart casual win them over?
Structure your presentation
Presenting is a bit like storytelling. You need a beginning, middle and an end. This gives the presentation a good flow and people are wondering why you suddenly bring up a solution to a problem you’ve not spoken of yet.
Don’t just repeat what is on the PowerPoint
Everyone has heard of death by PowerPoint. Don’t let your presentation slip into this category. If you are using slides, don’t just repeat what is shown on the screen. Have a separate script prepared that enhances what people are reading on the screen.
If you don’t practice your talk, you will fail to engage with the audience. They will be moments when you forget what you are meant to say, you’ll trip up on basic points and the audience will get the feeling you really didn’t think them important enough to prepare properly.
Knowing what you want to say will mean that you aren’t always looking down at your notes, and you can spend more time looking at the audience, hopefully creating a real connection that will make it easier for them to come and talk to you afterwards.
If you have 15 minutes with five minutes for questions, don’t talk for 30 minutes. Your audience may want to go and see another speaker, or they might have another appointment lined up straight after your talk. Keeping to the allotted time is a key presentation skill.
Keeping within the time given is one of the more important presentation skills. It keeps you focussed and audiences are happier. It also means that if someone does have a question, the whole audience will be listening, not just the ones who stayed behind out of politeness or because they had nowhere better to go.
Presentation skills are always difficult to master, they take practice. One tip is to always remember that the audience is your central focus; they are giving up valuable time so you can communicate important information. You may have a well-conceived idea of what you are verbally saying, but do you know what you are saying non-verbally? We all want an engaged audience, whether it is an audience of one or one hundred, so it is vital that you are quickly able to follow the non-verbal clues they give you and adapt your own body language to establish rapport and engage them.
Micro-expressions, can you read them or do you need an emoticon?
One aspect that helps us to be better communicators is mastering the non-verbal clues that we are both giving and receiving. Non-verbal communication includes gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, posture, body movements, touch, space, environmental contexts, physiologic responses (e.g. reddening) and voice tone; inflection or pace . The ability to use these signs to help interpret the flow of a conversation can dramatically improve communication and understanding. When your non-verbal cues are aligned to your verbal message then communication is clearer, more open and also seen as more trustworthy- essential to building a strong business rapport. When you become aware and adept at controlling your own emotions you are able to focus on reading the signs in others. Look for inconsistencies between non-verbal and verbal communications and groupings of non-verbal clues which are all conveying the same overall message. Remember that there will be cultural and generational differences in non-verbal clues so it is difficult to interpret an isolated event and more accurate to look at a group of signals.
Practicing for example some cues that denote confidence seems like a good idea, using strong purposeful gestures, speaking slower with no more than a moderate voice and engaging eye contact with a smile. Even if we master this, however, we might still not be in control of all of our body language. Observation of people helps, start looking around restaurants/ public spaces and interpreting relationships without hearing words. Chances are you will be able to identify defensive postures, lying, disengagement and aggressiveness as well as a myriad of other non-verbal pointers.
Eye contact is used to signal many different intentions and many of us will already know that looking up and to the left is done when recalling a memory and looking up and to the right denotes using your imagination (or possibly lying!). It is again important to establish the normal for each individual by asking base line questions and paying attention to the rest of the non-verbal clues. Moving the feet for example ( check under the table ), over or under emphasis of voice as well as keeping the limbs closer to the body would reinforce a sense someone is lying when appearing in a cluster of behavioural responses. Even the humble knee can give a lot away, watch where it is pointing to find out their subconscious desire, towards the door and away from your business transaction? Of course, it could just be comfort! When we recognise body language we are able to change ours to begin to dictate or steer events towards more successful conclusions. There are few people who do not respond to changes in body language, a smile from you will usually elicit one. Managing your emotions will help to shape/ manage your body language , so always pause and regroup when you are finding it difficult to keep your emotions in check otherwise you will quickly lose rapport with another.
Many of us work in a challenging environment and it seems that challenge begins when we walk into the office space. If we have reached the upper echelons it may be that we have our own clearly defined workspace but the vast majority are fixed in a cubicular world which mimics early psychological experiments. It’s a wonder we don’t implode, it’s amazing we are actually productive.
Edward Hall regarded by some as the great grandfather of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coined the term “proxemics”. This describes the space in which we feel comfortable in different contexts. With a large part of our lives spent at the office having space invaders encroaching on our spatial limits can impact on our performance. With cubicle space rapidly decreasing by as much as 50% in urban areas to increase cost efficacy environmental stress can have long reaching impacts on employee health, productivity and inter-cultural relations. Overcrowding in the animal kingdom leads to aggression and territorial tension but in the office do the polychrones inadvertently wind up the monochrones by borrowing ‘personal’ items and multitasking?
Space to think concentrate or think creatively is lacking in most office environments and whilst some are able to zone out and accept differences others can obsess on them seeking quieter spaces to perform. Personalisation of spaces, creation of physical barriers or feng shui may provide some cognitive solace against the shrinkage of personal space but ultimately we may be slaves to primal evolutionary forces. Research from Caltech shows that the amygdaloid region of the brain may hold the key as to why we maintain spatial distance from people, it indicates that this region is active during romantic approaches but also influences our fear response and holds emotional memory. One subject with damage to this region had no concept of personal space.
Creation of our own ‘personal bubble’ may not translate however across inter-cultural divides. Dubai is an extremely multi-cultural work environment, in the workplace you will hear different languages and experience different smells, tastes, dress, intonations, work ethics and cultural space boundaries. The question is whether you recognise them for what they are or react with your own defences seeing intrusion as a threat.
Edward Hall wisely said : We should never denigrate any other culture but rather help people to understand the relationship between their own culture and the dominant culture. When you understand another culture or language, it does not mean that you have to lose your own culture.
“Oral delivery aims at persuasion and making the listener believe they are converted. Few persons are capable of being convinced; the majority allow themselves to be persuaded.” Goethe.
Unless you wave your arms around and alter the tone of your voice like Obi Wan Kenobi or can control minds like Professor Xavier, it may be that you need a few tips in the art of persuasion. As with most conversations in life if you listen to your audience and understand their motivations first, then you can offer solutions and a different perspective.
We have all sat through dull presentations, slide after slide delivered with all the passion of a stuffed animal. As an audience we try in vain to signal our disinterest flicking through material, checking our messages, shifting in our chairs. We really do want to be enlightened; after all we have given up our valuable time to be there. All too often the presenter forgets that as the audience the presentation should be all about us and not about them, their accomplishments, their company or their product. Of course it is about those things but if you fail to engage and involve the audience and listen to them you might as well pack up and go home.
The skill of being able to present yourself or your company in a professional, memorable and persuasive way does not come easy to most and needs practice and refinement to achieve objectives. If you have to speak at meetings and conferences; put up a case to the board; communicate company policy; pitch to prospective customers or carry out business development responsibility then you need to be able to persuade. A persuasive presentation normally starts with a story, statistics or facts to gain our attention from the beginning, connects the content with our needs and involves us, the audience, in developing a solution. However, when developing your persuasive presentation you need to first focus on analysing the audience. Ask yourself these questions to get you started:-
Thinking about these and embedding them into your presentation will persuade the audience you are there for them. Even Steve Jobs started somewhere, here he is persuading us to buy Mac’s in 1984 and he is still persuading us today.
If you are interested in developing your presentation skills please contact ISM Training, Dubai for further information on our public and in-house courses.